ATLANTIC SKIES: One day, maybe, we will be able to vacation on the moon and set foot on its lunar mountains and valleys


Fast forward 100 years to 2123: humans have established numerous bases and resorts scattered across the moon’s surface.

Regular, weekly tourist trips to the lunar surface are now as commonplace as trips to our planet’s numerous other vacation spots. Space travel has advanced to the stage where the trip takes around 12.5 hours, about the same time it would have taken to fly non-stop from Toronto, Ont. to Tokyo, Japan in 2023. Safety and comfort on state-of-the-art, commercial space cruisers are paramount and the passengers sit back and relax, gazing in wonder at the surrounding heavens as they soar towards the moon.

But what do you do when you arrive on the moon? Although there will no doubt be numerous domed, tourist-type resorts, complete with casinos, swimming pools, bars and lunar golf courses, etc., there will need to be other attractions and activities that will surpass these offerings. After all, you can get these sorts of amenities at home on Earth.

Of course, there are the to-be-expected daily tours of the Apollo landing sites, as well as the locations of various space probe landings and crashes. But once you have visited these sites, what else is there to see and do?

Dave Gaudet wanted to know if moon phases during the first quarter impact our weather. 123 RF - 123RF Stock Photo
Dave Gaudet wanted to know if moon phases during the first quarter impact our weather. 123 RF – 123RF Stock Photo


Perhaps, for the more adventurous, a hike up some of the moon’s highest mountains would capture their interest. Following some basic training on how to move in your pressurized spacesuit and some not-to-be-ignored safety procedures, the trained lunar-mountaineering crew load you and your family or friends into one of the large-wheel, multi-seat lunar vehicles and you’re soon on your way towards the lunar mountains of your choice.

Since the Moon’s gravity is only about 16.6 per cent that of Earth’s, your trek up a lunar mountain should not be all that difficult.

The moon has numerous mountain ranges, some with peaks whose heights rival or surpass those on Earth. Mons (Latin for mountain; plural, montes) Huygens — named after Dutch astronomer, mathematician and physician Christiann Huygens (1629-1695), at 5,500 metres, is the moon’s tallest mountain, though not its highest point (more on that later). It is located in the Montes Apenninus (Apennine Mountains) lunar mountain range in the northern part of the moon, where it forms the southwestern border of Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains, Sea of Showers, or Sea of Tears) — a vast lava plain within the Imbrium Basin — and the northwest border of the Terra Nivium (Land of Snows) highlands.

The Apenninus range begins just to the west of the large crater Eratosthenes (276 BC-194 BC), the Greek astronomer who is best known for having estimated the circumference of the Earth and the distance between Earth and the sun, and butts up against the southern face of the Apennines.

NASA's Galileo spacecraft captured this image of mountains on Jupiter's moon Io in February 2000. Mongibello Mons, the jagged ridge at the left of the image, rises 23,000 feet above the plains of Io, higher than any mountain in North America. — NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Arizona State University
NASA’s Galileo spacecraft captured this image of mountains on Jupiter’s moon Io in February 2000. Mongibello Mons, the jagged ridge at the left of the image, rises 23,000 feet above the plains of Io, higher than any mountain in North America. — NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Arizona State University


Incidentally, the Montes Apennines were named after the Apennine Mountains in Italy, which run for about 1,200 kilometres along the length of the Italian peninsula.

Mons Hadley is a massif — a section of a planet’s/moon’s crust demarcated by faults or flexures (as the crust moves upward, the massif retains the integrity of its material structure) — along the northern portion of the Montes Apennines. Named for the English mathematician, John Hadley (1682-1744), it reaches a height of 4,500 metres and has a diameter of around 25 kilometres.

Mons Hadley was formed by the Imbrium Impact, an ancient collision of the moon with a proto-planet during the Late Heavy Bombardment (a hypothetical event that is thought to have occurred about 3.8-4.1 billion years ago, when our solar system’s newly-formed, inner planets — Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars — were subjected to a massive bombardment or collision with a vast number of asteroids and comets from the outer regions of the solar system.

This mountain has a notable place in lunar history, as it was just southwest of this mountain, in the Hadley-Apennine Valley, that the Apollo 15 mission landed on July 26, 1971. A few days later, the Apollo 15 astronauts visited the Mons Hadley Delta just to the southwest.

The remaining lunar mountain you may wish to ascend is Mons Rumker, named for the German astronomer Karl. C. Rumker (1788-1862), whose primary work was the cataloguing of the stars in the southern hemisphere. Located in the northwest portion of the moon, Mons Rumker is the largest volcanic construct on the moon, meaning that it formed as the result of lunar volcanic activity. It forms a large, elevated mound in the northern section of Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms), a huge lunar mare (Latin for sea; plural, maria) along the moon’s western edge.

Oceanus Procellarum has the distinction of being the only lunar mare labelled an oceanus (ocean), due to its large size of 2,500 kilometres across its north-south axis and having an area of roughly 4,000,000 square kilometres. Mons Rumker itself has a diameter of about 70 kilometres and reaches a height of 1,300 metres above its surrounding plain.

Above, I noted that Mons Huygens, though the moon’s tallest mountain, is not the highest point of land on the moon. That honour goes to the Selenean Summit on the moon’s far side, at 10,786 metres above the lunar topographical mean.

A topographical mean is a reference coordinate surface (a geometric system that uses one or more numbers or coordinates to determine the location or height of the points, or other geometric elements, used to determine vertical positions ( i.e., elevation), above or below a fixed reference point or surface.

The topographical mean on Earth is sea level.

The Selenean Summit is considered the highest point on the moon due to its prominence — the height of a mountain’s summit relative to the lowest contour line (a line on a topographical map connecting points of similar elevation) encircling it, but which does not contain a higher summit within it.

Having successfully scaled the highest mountains on the Moon, perhaps you will someday get the chance to climb the highest mountain on Mars: Olympus Mons at 21,229 metres or, perhaps, Mithrim Montes, at about 3,337 metres — the highest mountain on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

If you are young enough now, perhaps, in the coming decades, when humans have established bases and vacation resorts on our solar system’s other planets and their moons, you might consider conquering Pluto’s highest mountain, Tenzing Montes at 6,200 metres. Or perhaps you’d rather test yourself against our solar system’s highest mountain, the 20- to 25-kilometre high central peak of Rheasilvia on the asteroid Vesta.

Will you be up to the challenge when the time comes, and the opportunity presents itself?

In the sky this week

  • Mercury (mag. -1.0, in Pisces — the Fish) shines brightly 11 degrees above the western horizon (its greatest altitude in the evening sky for 2023) around 8:20 p.m., before sinking towards the horizon and setting by about 9:40 p.m. On April 11, Mercury will be at its greatest elongation (visual angular separation) east of the sun, as seen from Earth.
  • Venus (mag. -4.0, in Aries — the Ram) becomes visible around 8:10 p.m., 30 degrees above the western horizon, before it, too, drops towards the horizon, and sets by around 11:20 p.m. Just to the right of Venus is mag. +2.9 Alcyone, the third brightest star in the constellation of Taurus — the Bull.
  • Mars (mag. +1.0, in Gemini — the Twins) is visible by about 8:35 p.m., 57 degrees above the southwest horizon; it then drops towards the horizon and disappears from view by about 2:30 a.m.
  • Both Jupiter and Saturn are not observable this week.
  • Events: Apr. 13: Last quarter moon

Until next week, clear skies.

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